Getting It Wrong On Uber’s Return To Austin

Martin Romjue
Posted on July 18, 2017
(C.C. image via Flickr.com)
(C.C. image via Flickr.com)

By now, we’ve seen every possible media angle, pro or con, on Uber and its effects on this industry, the ground transportation sector, and the U.S. economy. Much of it is speculative, ranging from doomsday to utopian predictions. Sometimes I’ll see one too misinformed to let go.

The article I cite serves as a leading example of free-market Uber promoters who miss or gloss over key facts in the regulatory debate over TNCs. In a July 10, 2017 article in The Weekly Standard, writer Mark Hemingway defends the return of Uber to the tech-hub of Austin, Texas. For anyone unfamiliar with The Weekly Standard, it’s a politically conservative insider-Beltway magazine with numerous articles by think tankers and academics devoted to ideological purity. [Most notably, it pushed the elitist pose of #NeverTrumpism and was the leading advocate of the ill-fated plant-seeds-of-democracy, nation-building quagmire in Iraq].

The writer missed obvious points in his spinning on behalf of Uber and Lyft, and the corrections below show how operators can clarify such wrong information when confronted with it:

Background Checks
Hemingway claims Uber does extensive background checks that exceed comparable service jobs. He blamed Austin for wanting to require FBI-level fingerprint background checks for drivers, as for limo chauffeurs and taxi drivers. He also claims “asking people to volunteer to have the FBI to start a file on them did not prove a success.”

First, driving the public is not comparable to serving food in a restaurant, for example. There’s the issue of passenger safety. What Hemingway fails to address is why are FBI background checks good enough for limo and taxi industries, but not for TNC drivers? All three participate in commercial transportation. The logical stance here is to either regulate all or deregulate all. No special treatment for any one sector that transports people from point A to point B.

And by what reasoning are fingerprint background checks a deterrent to employment? FBI exposure certainly hasn’t prevented thousands of cab drivers and limo chauffeurs from pursuing their vocations. Suppose a prospective employee rankled by a fingerprint check for a transportation job may have something to hide?

Driver Crimes
Missing from the article is any mention of the abundance of criminal activity plaguing TNCs absent such checks. The Taxi Limousine & Paratransit Association’s website, Who’s Driving You?, tracks and categorizes criminal acts and outrageous behavior by TNC drivers, reports: Deaths (28 from murders to crashes), sexual assaults (28), assaults (63), people posing as TNC drivers (58), and felons driving (19). There is even a category for alleged kidnappings, plus another frightening list of miscellaneous incidents no person should ever be subject to as a passenger in a for-hire vehicle.

Nor is there any mention in the article of “duty of care,” the obligation of commercial transportation operators to provide the basics of safe service. TNCs do not practice nor subscribe to duty of care, which is amply explained on the National Limousine Association’s website, RideResponsibly.org.

Duty of Care here / Passenger Bill of Rights here

Harassment Culture
Hemingway makes a risible comparison in equating the documented rampant sexual harassment culture of Uber with the mishandling of charity donations at Austin’s alternative ride-hailing company, RideAustin. Passengers may donate to a charity above their fares. A former spokesman alleges RideAustin was “strong-arming the charities it was working with,” Hemingway writes. The spokesman said he resigned because he was asked to do something unethical.

Even if all of this is true and substantiated, it nowhere nears the severity of management and behavioral problems at Uber, culminating in the forced resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick. As a Harvard Business Review article posted on our website July 18 attests, “Uber’s business model was predicated on lawbreaking.”

Hemingway’s most blatant blooper is an argument his media employers should be fond of promoting, and one he should defend as a Beltway conservative insider: Equality before the law and equality of opportunity. Those are ideas as old as our republic itself, and apply to the business owners of taxi, limo, and ride hailing services alike.

Related Topics: background checks, duty of care, industry politics, legal issues, Lyft, National Limousine Association, passenger safety, regulatory enforcement, Ride Responsibly, Taxi Limousine Paratransit & Association, taxis, Texas operators, TNCs, Uber

Martin Romjue Editor
Comments ( 1 )
  • Anthony

     | about 11 months ago

    Lets not forget texas sarah milburn riding an uber honda adyssey is now paralized thanks to the guber business model "hire anyone" The complete disregard for human safety, criminal drivers, just anyone. Placing guber tents in low income centers to hire anyone. I would feel safer with a dominos pizza delivery driver They have burned through billions of investors money, they have worked illegally and most of the public is blind. A corporation with a security department is not going to allow any executives to get in a guber roullette. Customers in high income areas avoid guber for airport transfers scared they will be burglarized while on vacation

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